Katahdin Woods and Waters Scenic Byway
- DesignationNational Scenic Byway (2021)
- Intrinsic QualitiesRecreation
- Length89 miles
Relive the experiences of the hearty souls who ventured into the great north woods. View or climb Katahdin (Ktaadn), home to the Indian Spirit, Pamola, the Storm God and Protector of Ktaadn.
Katahdin Area Chamber of Commerce
Appalachian Trail Conservancy
Baxter State Park
New England Outdoor Center
Millinocket Historical Society
Upper Valley Economic Council
The Maine Highlands
Story of the Byway
The Katahdin Woods & Waters Scenic Byway offers world-class outdoor recreational opportunities amidst spectacular scenery in some of the most spectacular natural landscapes that inland Maine has to offer. Visitors of all experience levels can enjoy camping, canoeing, rafting, hiking, bicycling, fishing, snowmobiling, Nordic skiing, and epic wildlife watching. The grand forested landscape surrounding Katahdin is filled with lakes, ponds, streams, bogs, and the unspoiled West and East Branches of the Penobscot River. Byway travelers have exceptional access to these places through both public lands and Maine’s traditional public access over private lands. Visitors should be sure to take the time to meet the area’s local craftsman, unique business owners, and masters of wildlife.
The byway connects to the South Gate of Baxter State Park, where Katahdin, Maine’s highest peak, dominates the landscape. The mountain was designated as a National Landmark by the National Park Service in 1967. This natural wonder has inspired countless writers, poets, and artists for many years, one of the most notable being Henry David Thoreau.
This byway passes between Ambajejus and Millinocket lakes, two of Maine’s largest, and also passes the towns of Millinocket and East Millinocket. These historic mill towns offer abundant services as well as recreational opportunities at local parks and trails. The museum, library, tourist information centers, shops, and galleries provide places where visitors can learn about recreation and the region’s lumber history. A little off the beaten path, the Abol Bridge is located west of Millinocket and provides passage over the West Branch of the Penobscot River. The bridge offers broad, open views of Mount Katahdin along with spectacular views of the falls below.
The byway then passes north through Medway, Gemstone, Sherman, Stacyville, Patten, and Mt. Chase. In Patten, visitors can learn all about Maine logging history, including the use of bateaux on waterways to transport supplies, the stories of the fearless river drivers, what life was like inside a remote logging camp, and even the role of bean hole beans. Housed in nine buildings at the Museum site, the vast collection of tools and equipment reflect every aspect of the woodsman’s life and work in the 1800s and the first three decades of the 20th century. The museum boasts some of Maine’s most notable contributions to the early mechanization of logging, including the Lombard Steam Hauler, Lombard Gas Hauler, and the Peavey Cant Dog. Visitors may wish to time their visits for the third Saturday in May for the Fiddlers and Fiddlehead Fest, where fiddlers fiddle while fiddlehead cooks compete or for the second Saturday in August for the Annual Bean-hole Bean Dinner, where visitors can travel back in time to eat like a river-driver and enjoy wagon rides, live music, crafts, and blacksmithing and wood-turning demonstrations.
The northern end of the byway is more remote and features the East Branch headwaters and the fishing and boating mecca, Grand Lake Matagamon. This branch has been a popular part of the river for recreational canoe trips ever since Thoreau, Maine’s first ecotourist, described his guided excursion there in “The Maine Woods” (1864). The northern section of Baxter offers great solitude, and the opportunities for wildlife watching and touring are especially great. Visitors seeking a thrill will love white water rafting on this beautiful river
Here, the byway connects people with Maine Public Lands, lake beaches, and great moose country. The byway’s recreational resources for both mild and extreme outdoor recreation enthusiasts are nationally significant. Visitors can trace Henry David Thoreau’s footsteps, enjoy vistas painted by famous artists, or discover the wildness that inspired Roosevelt.
The Byway begins at the southern entrance of Baxter State Park on Millinocket Road and winds its way through Millinocket along Route 11 and the Penobscot River to Patten, ending at Baxter’s northern entrance at Grand Lake Matagamon. Visitors will pass through East Millinocket, Medway, Greystone, Sherman, Stacyville, Patten, and Mt. Chase.
Points of Interest
Patten Lumbermen's Museum
Learn about Maine logging history at the Patten Lumbermen’s Museum, including the use of Bateaux on waterways to transport supplies, the stories of the fearless river drivers, what life was like inside a remote logging camp, and even the role of bean hole beans.
Baxter State Park
There are over 40 peaks and ridges besides Mount Katahdin in the Park. The trail system features over 215 miles of trails popular with hikers, mountain climbers and naturalists. Baxter State Park operates eight (8) roadside campgrounds and two (2) backcountry campgrounds. There are also numerous individual backcountry sites for backpackers.
The highest mountain in Maine, this is the northern terminus of the Appalachian Trail.
Shin Falls, which is often also called Shin Brook Falls, is an unforgettable waterfall and one of the finest in Maine. Despite its remoteness, the falls does see a fair share of visitors. Three drops can be found here, but the final spectacular drop of 30 feet is, without a doubt, the highlight. This horsetail spreads diagonally as it bobbles over row after row of rock shelves. Above the main drop is a pair of seven or eight foot plunges which cannot be seen from the base of the main falls.
The falls are approximately 300-feet wide and feature small protruding stones (grindstones) that rise only a foot or two above the level of the water. Despite the small size of the falls, this is actually a rather scenic stop along the byway.
Debsconeag Ice Caves
Nestled in the shadow of Katahdin, just south of Baxter State Park, The Nature Conservancy’s Debsconeag Lakes Wilderness Area (DLWA) is a vital link in nearly 500,000 acres of contiguous conservation land.
Ash Hill provides an outstanding 360° view of Katahdin, the mountains surrounding Baxter State Park, and long views toward the Allagash and Aroostook County.
Ambajejus Boomhouse Museum
Now a museum, there has been a Boomhouse at the head of Ambajejus Lake since 1835. Accessible by boat, the present building was used from 1907 to 1971, with a bunk room for 14 men who were part of the famous log booming crews.
Alongside the West Branch of the Penobscot River, the Golden Road is a town-less thoroughfare in the North Maine Woods that stretches for more than 90 miles from Millinocket to the province of Quebec.
West Branch of the Penobscot River
Mightiest River in Maine, a favorite for canoing and kayaking.
Thrill Seeking at Katahdin Woods and Waters
For a thrill seeking day on the Katahdin Scenic Byway start at Mount Katahdin itself at the Knife Edge Trail, no doubt one of the most high adrenaline adventures in Maine. A portion of the trail is only 3 feet wide, and this hike with an elevation of approximately 5000 feet and extraordinarily steep drop-offs on both sides, has been described as a “1.1-mile rock scramble”. For a more moderate hike, try the Chimney Pond Trail.
After you descend from the heights of the highest point in the Northeast, it’s time to dip into the fast moving waters of the Penobscot River. The Penobscot River offers unforgettable and thrilling whitewater rafting runs with ten-foot waterfalls, powerful holes, surfing and white-knuckle rides. A number of companies offer rafters excursions that include Class III to Class V rapids, with adrenaline rushes and spectacular scenery at every turn.
If those experiences aren’t enough for you, head down to Millinocket for a skydiving adventure that will be sure to knock your socks off. Jump over 11,000 feet from an airplane right about the spectacular Mount Katahdin.
Millinocket is also the best place along the byway to calm your racing heart after the adrenaline rush to go shopping or enjoy the local restaurants. From Millinocket continue on Maine Route 157 south to Medway before taking Maine Route 11 North to Sherman and Stacyville. Around this area, enjoy the amazing network of ATV trails that go through scenic recreation and wildlife trails.
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